Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Ruth Jefferson is a successful labor and delivery nurse with over twenty years of experience. She has a nice home and a college-bound seventeen-year-old son, Edison. She also happens to be African American. When Ruth takes over for a colleague at shift change, she is simply doing a checkup on newborn baby boy Davis. But after his checkup, she's told Davis' parents don't want her touching their child. A post-it note in his file states that no African American staff should be touching the patient. Ruth is shocked-- and angry. The next day, when Davis has a medical emergency, Ruth is faced with a choice. Does she help the baby--defying the order of the parents and her supervisor? Ruth's decision leads her on a path that involves the police and being charged with a serious crime. Police come into her home, handcuffing her and her son. Her public defender, Kennedy McQuarrie, recommends that Ruth's defense not involve race: a lightning rod for juries, she says. But Ruth is angry and humiliated and wants to clear her name, at whatever the cost.
This is a touching and powerful novel. Told from the varying points of view of Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk--baby Davis' father-- it is a compelling look at how race and family history shapes the person we become. It is a poignant story at points: it is amazing what people can rationalize when it comes to hatred. I found the novel very fitting right now, with what's going on in the U.S. Honestly, it's very frightening at times and hits a little too close to home.
Picoult's characters are well-formed and dynamic, and you find yourself drawn into parts of each.
Turk, obviously, despite the loss of his child, is not a sympathetic character, but he is a complex one; his progression over the course of the novel is intriguing, and it's amazing how Picoult did not make him a one dimensional white supremacist. The book is extremely well-researched; both from the side of white supremacy, as well as racism and the medical aspects of Davis' case. Kennedy is likeable and her struggle with Ruth's case, as she realizes the depth of both the visible and latent racism her client faces on a daily basis, is real and relatable. I applaud Picoult for tackling such a difficult subject with such honesty. It's almost as if, through Kennedy, she's admitting exactly what she doesn't know. (I highly recommend reading Picoult's afterword, as well.)
For me, the hardest parts of the book was that it gets a little too poetic in the Jodi Picoult way (those who frequently read her novels will identify), with her waxing on about race and parents and being brought together, versus letting the story tell itself. At points the book just goes on and on a bit, versus getting to the story and the point. There are lots of little subplots that go off, detracting at times from the main story and frustrating the reader. And, of course, there are some weird twists and plot points in the typical Picoult style, though they don't seem to pack the punch of her older novels. It all wraps up a little too smoothly, though I have to confess I sort of enjoyed the ending. It may have been a bit trite, but I am often a sucker for such things.
Overall, I was impressed with how Picoult approached this novel, and I enjoyed the storyline for the most part (I was certainly invested), though it dawdled at times and ended a bit too easily. I'd rate this a strong 3.5 - 3.75 stars. Certainly worth reading, especially if you're a Picoult fan.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley; is available everywhere as of 10/11/2016.
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